A Yorkshire Dales pressure group has condemned the launch of a unitary authority for North Yorkshire as “the final nail in the coffin of democracy within the national park”.
In a wide-ranging statement just four days after district councillors from Richmondshire and Craven were replaced by elected members of North Yorkshire Council on the park authority, the Association of Rural Communities accused the government of committing a “a major crime against local democracy”.
The association, which was founded in 1995, lobbies for more democracy within the national park and acts as a self-appointed watchdog on the activities of the authority, but has in the past itself been criticised as lacking a mandate from residents.
The group said while North Yorkshire Council stated it was “being built with local at its heart and aims to be the most local, large council in England”, it was obvious to residents in Swaledale and Arkengarthdale that “actions speak louder than words”.
The statement reads: “Not only do they no longer have their own district councillor, but they have lost their local representative on the planning committee of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority.”
The group highlighted how Reeth-based councillor Richard Good had been replaced on the park authority by Councillor Steve Shaw-Wright, who represents Selby, almost 73 miles from the Swaledale village.
It added other “local district councillors” had been replaced by people who do not live in the national park.
Alastair Dinsdale, chairman of the Association of Rural Communities, said: ‘I see this as the final nail in the coffin of democracy within the national park.
“We, the community, own, live and manage the area as unpaid park keepers. We are now controlled by officers, appointed members and elected members from larger authorities around the national park.
“Residents of the national park should have the same level of local government representation as everyone else. For a sustainable future we need to take back some control before the next generation turn their backs and leave, and then who will look after what we have created and managed so well?”
A park authority spokesman said appointments to all national park authorities are made by councils, and by law, they were required to make these on basis of political proportionality.
He said: “Political balance is generally seen as a good thing because it prevents one party from dominating, and the suggestion that Mr Shaw-Wright is a direct replacement for Mr Good is incorrect.
“The representation in the national park – 26 park authority members for a population of 23,500 – is one member to 940 people.”
Responding to the association’s claims, Coun Shaw-Wright, who is the Labour group leader on North Yorkshire Council, said the national park had been established for the benefit of the nation rather than just those living in it.
He added as a former member of the park authority he was well acquanited with the area’s issues.
Another of the incoming members based outside the park’s boundaries, Richmond councillor Stuart Parsons, who has been highly critical of the move to create a unitary authority, said the authority’s members had to live up to national responsibilities and regulations.
He said while local knowledge was useful when deciding issues in the park, the park was supposed to be for the nation.
Coun Parsons added: “People living in the national park seem to always vote Conservative but not like the decision of Conservatives in Parliament to create a unitary authority. They need to think about how they are using their vote.”